Published on August 19, 2007
I don't go to the doctors very often, and certainly not for symptoms I'm familiar with. I tend to treat myself with appropriate medication - but this isn't something I would recommend to anyone else. My mother was a doctor, I was brought up listening to my mother diagnosing other people's symptoms and prescribing suitable medication.
These days I only visit doctors when I have symptoms of which I'm not certain. Luckily, in Bangkok, one can see a specialist doctor at any time by going to one of the many private hospitals.
As a family we tend to frequent Bumrungrad Hospital, Samitivej Hospital and BNH hospital. Increasingly I've noticed that, at hospitals such as these, there are more and more overseas visitors who are now taking advantage of the excellent medical care on offer in Thailand at a much more reasonable price than in their home countries.
Private healthcare in most parts of the world is notoriously expensive, and for some people prohibitively so. Therefore many people have looked beyond their homelands, and as a result have found medical care in Thailand as a cost-effective and immediate alternative, thus creating the trend in "medical tourism" here.
We are very lucky since Thailand arguably has the strongest medical-care system in Southeast Asia. Many of the doctors here have been educated abroad, and some have taken specialist training overseas, particularly in the US and Europe.
Most doctors here are as equally qualified as doctors in the West, in some cases even more so. Foreigners will notice that a majority of doctors here speak excellent English. Aside from doctors, the quality of nursing care here is also remarkably high.
In recent years, the facilities and equipment of hospitals here have also improved to world-class standards due to large investments. I have several friends who fly in from other cities in Asia to have their medical check-ups and treatments in Bangkok. Many also come over here for cosmetic surgery, and cosmetic dentistry.
One of my friends flies over with her family from Hong Kong annually to have their teeth whitened. Another comes over from Europe to have her facelifts and other cosmetic surgery. In fact I can't think of a part of her body that hasn't been remade in Thailand! (I don't yet know anyone who's come here to have their sex reassigned.)
Most private hospitals here offer very attractive annual check-up programmes. I may not see doctors very often, but I fully believe in having an annual check-up to make sure I stay healthy and well.
Many people nowadays prefer alternative medical care, such as seeing a doctor who practises traditional Chinese medicine, or a homeopathic doctor.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been practised in Asia for thousands of years, and it's not surprising that there are numerous good doctors who offer the service in Bangkok.
The philosophy behind traditional Chinese medicine is holistic healthcare, from diagnosis to treatment to maintenance. Traditional Chinese medicine works to regenerate the organ functions in one's body. Health is restored by bringing the bodily functions into balance, activating and increasing the body's natural immune system. One can also find many places offering Chinese therapies such as acupuncture in Bangkok.
I am afraid that, because my mother was trained in Western medicine, I'm not at all familiar with alternative medicine, and have always doubted its effectiveness. However I do know a great deal of people who are totally devoted to naturopathic, homeopathic and traditional Chinese medicine.
E very country has its medical horror stories. Ten years ago, my boyfriend and I were living in New York. His throat swelled up on one side. After a week it got worse and he went to the doctor. The doctor wasn't sure what it was so decided to observe it for a week. If it didn't disappear, my boyfriend should get magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
It didn't disappear.
So we made an appointment for an MRI. We had to wait another week. The day finally arrived and, after three weeks of having an unsightly lump on the side of his throat, my boyfriend got his MRI. It would take another week before the ear-nose-and-throat specialist could see him to interpret the images but we were on our way to finding out what this lump was.
After another 10 days, the specialist pronounced that my boyfriend had a stone in his salivary gland and would need surgery. He referred us to a surgeon who could see us in two weeks. After two weeks, we saw the surgeon who told us he could operate in a month. He wanted to see us again in three weeks to see how the swelling had progressed and prepare for surgery.
In three weeks, however, we went back to the surgeon who announced that his hospital had changed its health maintenance organisation (HMO) and could no longer accept my boyfriend's insurance. We would have to go to another surgeon.
After 10 weeks of having been bounced around Manhattan from doctor to doctor, my boyfriend had had enough. On our way out of the surgeon's office, he called a friend in Bangkok who helped to make arrangements.
It was a Tuesday. We took a Thursday flight, arrived in Thailand on Friday and, by Saturday afternoon, my boyfriend was in the hospital getting prepped for surgery. On Sunday, he was recovering and on Monday - less than a week after we left the surgeon's office in New York - he was back home without a lump on the side of his throat. Our expenses here were less than our insurance deductible in New York.
I still feel profound guilt over having made my boyfriend go through that ordeal. We should have come back immediately.
Not that Bangkok doesn't have its horror stories. My sister had a bladder infection and, when getting treatment, was offered a totally unrelated service by the doctor who wanted to make the hospital some extra money. I have heard of adult patients whose parents were told they had HIV without their permission. I have even heard of a surgeon removing the wrong organ.
Older doctors tend not to discuss the nature of a medical ailment with the patient, prescribing medicine without a word of explanation. This is a cultural and generational quirk, however. Many Thai patients of a certain age find it frightening to hear the doctor discussing their medical condition. I even heard that an elderly lady became angry when her doctor encouraged her to get a second opinion. She lost all confidence in that particular doctor. If he were truly good, why would she need a second opinion?
Nowadays, however, a younger doctor will usually be happy to discuss alternative courses of treatment with a patient. Indeed, we have more traditional medicine available here than in America. I see a Chinese herbalist for viral infections and an acupuncturist for shingles. A traditional massage therapist cured me of chronic back pain. I like having the choice.
For those who are able to afford it, medical care in Thailand is usually excellent.
Want an opinion on something? Cat and Nat can be contacted